Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Clemson Tigers (12-1 SU, 6-7 ATS)
Playstation Fiesta Bowl – CFP Semifinal
Date/Time: Saturday, December 31 at 7PM EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: OSU -3/CLEM +3
Over/Under Total: 59.5
The Ohio State Buckeyes face the Clemson Tigers in a battle of one-loss teams in the Fiesta Bowl, which doubles as the College Football Playoff Semifinal. The winner of this will play for the title, with the stakes being very high for this game—as big as it gets. The Big Ten's Ohio State, winners of five in a row, only lost once this season by a field goal and feature a strong run-game and a balanced and playmaking defense. Clemson possesses a balanced defense, as well, with a more aerially-inclined offensive approach. And like Ohio State, they lost once narrowly—a one-point defeat being all that separates them from a perfect record.
The Tigers are accustomed to this College Football Playoff format, coming off a runner-up season to Alabama last year. For much of the season, the Tigers failed to excite, as their sub-.500 record against the spread would attest. Their early-season was plagued with some really close games, before they beat a team that was getting a lot of attention in the high-flying Louisville Cardinals. Some close calls continued, with an overtime win over NC State and a 3-point win over FSU. They fell by a point to a dangerous Pittsburgh team on November 12. But they closed the season with three straight wins, ending the season with a 42-35 win in the ACC title game over Virginia Tech. They're here, though there were moments where they impressed, mixed in with some less-than shining moments en route to this spot.
The Clemson offense is led by one of the best quarterbacks in the business in Deshaun Watson. While Watson didn't come close to approaching his 1000+-yard rushing season from last year, he was still pretty deadly through the air with nearly 4000 yards passing with 37 touchdowns. His 15 picks on the season was on the high side and that could be a problem with this opportunistic Ohio State defense. But this offense can get you in a variety of ways. On the ground, Wayne Gallman is a handful with 15 touchdowns. Watson can still scoot and had 6 TD runs on the season. The aerial weaponry is deep, led by Mike Williams and his 1171 yards. Jordan Leggett and Deon Cain are very useful in this offense, combining for 16 touchdowns. And with Artavis Scott, Ray Ray McCloud, and Hunter Renfrow, this is an offense that has room for a lot of different players to thrive.
The Clemson defense had some shaky moments this season, giving up 36 to Louisville, 34 to Florida State, 43 to Pitt, and 35 to Virginia Tech. They were good in most other games and while leaky against the better offenses they faced, the defense was one of the best in the country when it came to making plays. A top-ten ranked overall defense, Clemson's "D" made a lot of good things happen this season with 18 interceptions and 46 sacks, which was second in the FBS. Jadar Johnson has made a ton of plays in the secondary. Getting after the quarterback has been Carlos Watkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, and others. Ben Boulware, Kendall Joseph, and Van Smith have also been big for this defense.
Ohio State had some close calls this season, as well. There was an overtime win over Wisconsin, a 3-point loss to Penn State in their only loss, a win over Michigan State when a two-point conversion was stopped late for the win, and the overtime win over Michigan, a win that got them to this point. Throw in a win over Oklahoma and the Buckeyes put together some nice credentials this season. They have the 5th-ranked defense in the country, while also scoring 42.7 points per game.
JT Barrett leads the Ohio State offense, coming off a big season where he threw for 24 touchdowns and just five picks, while running for 847 yards and 9 touchdowns. His options are extensive, especially on the ground. In addition to Barrett's running prowess, the Buckeyes also rely on Mike Weber and his 1072 yards, along with Curtis Samuel, who has run for 704 yards and 8 scores. Demario McCall has also been useful in spots on the ground. Through the air, Barrett works well with the versatile Samuel, who has 65 catches and 7 aerial scores. Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson have combined for a dozen touchdowns, but the bulk of the menace of the Ohio State offense is applied on the ground. Still, this is an offense that on occasion this season, has put up gobs of points.
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The Ohio State defense can really make an impression. Only two teams allowed fewer points on the season, as the Buckeyes gave up an average of just 14.2 points per game. They were stout against the opposing run, while giving up just 164 yards per game in the air. The 27 points they gave up to Michigan was a season-high, but the defense still did what it usually does and perform at their best when the situation was at its most critical, keeping the Wolverines off the board for the last quarter-and-a-half while they staged the comeback to send it to overtime. The defense has scored 7 times, led by Malik Hooker's three pick-sixes. Corner Marshon Lattimore has also been big in making plays in the secondary. The other corner Gareon Conley has also been making plays. Getting after the quarterback are Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and Nick Baker. With Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker in the middle, this is a defense that can make things awfully hard on opponents.
Both teams face a unique set of challenges heading into this huge matchup. A lot of them even out, in terms of overall urgency and the layoff that preceded this game. Many different conclusions seem viable, making it really tough to fashion a pick with any confidence. A lot of those conclusions suggest the offense of both teams having success. I see this one going over.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Ohio State-Clemson game going over 59.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Ohio State vs. Clemson Tigers Fiesta Bowl from home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!